When we visited North Carolina we were pretty short on money, but were lucky enough to have a friend in the area who gave us a huge list of free things to do in Asheville, NC. It wasn’t somewhere we had planned to visit, but having seen a lot of what North Carolina has to offer we’re so glad we did!
Asheville has an incredible vibe to it that makes it like no where else in North Carolina, and the fact that there are so many free things to do in Asheville is obviously a bonus too! If you’re looking for a holiday on a budget then Asheville is a great place to head!
Where Is Asheville?
Asheville is a city in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s known for a vibrant arts scene and historic architecture, as well as being a hub for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s the perfect place for a weekend break from Charlotte or Atlanta.
When To Visit Asheville
Asheville is beautiful at all times of year, but probably the best times to visit are from March to May and September to early November, when temperatures hit between the upper 50s and the mid-70s. For a destination with so many great hikes this is the perfect weather to go walking in and to enjoy the colours of spring and autumn. In the summer temperatures can sore, so make sure you’re prepared to be taking some mid day siestas or to be cooling off in one of the many swimming holes around Asheville.
Where To Stay In Asheville
There are some really great places to stay in Asheville if you’re on a budget. Unfortunately none of the options listed below are actually free, but with all the money you’re saving on the free activities your trip will certainly be cheap! And if you’re prepared to sacrifice a little luxury then there are some great camping options that I’ve listed below too.
The Rodeway Inn hotel is just 10 minutes from downtown Asheville and is a great budget accommodation choice. This inn is pretty basic, as you’d expect for the price, but it offers things like free coffee, free wireless high-speed Internet access, free local calls and free parking making it convenient and comfortable. You can find out more and get prices here.
This cheap motel has some character, and although it isn’t luxury, you get a lot for the price. You get a continental breakfast included, WiFi and some nice seating areas to enjoy your downtime. This motel is also just 5 minutes drive from downtown Asheville with it’s huge range of free things to do! You can find out more and get prices here.
Campsites Near Asheville
There are tonnes of great campsite spots near Asheville, though you’ll need a car to get into Asheville’s centre from them. Check out some of the top camping spots here (along with some great advice for avoiding local bear visitors!)
The Best Free Things to Do in Asheville NC
The best free things to do in Asheville are scattered all over the place, so whether you have a car or not you’ll be sure to find something free to do while you’re here. I’ve listed a few things that are a short drive from Asheville, and others that are in the centre itself. With such a huge variety of free activities in Asheville you’re bound to find something that’s right up your street!
Blue Ridge Parkway
Asheville is famous for the Blue Ridge Parkway and it’s easy to see why. If you have a car then visiting this free thing to do in Asheville is an absolute must! The winding road of the Blueridge Parkway takes you along some of the most scenic sights of the southeast, with countless places to park up and enjoy the incredible views. Visit in Autumn when the leaves on the trees are turning golden.
Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center
Because the blue ridge Parkway runs right through Asheville, they have a great visitor centre that’s free to visit. There’s a lovely little museum where you can learn all about it, and though it definitely isn’t a whole day activity, it’s a great way to pass a free hour in Asheville!
Hiking – One Of The Best Free Things To Do In Asheville
Hiking is one of the main reasons to come here, and one of the best free things to do in Asheville. I’ve listed some of the best hikes below, but there are countless more if you find you have time on your hands!
There are over 50 waterfalls in or near Asheville, but at 60ft Eastatoe is one you’ll want to see!
Take a hike through graveyard fields on which you’ll find stunning waterfalls, fields of wildflowers and wild blueberries. The hike got its name from the tree stumps that look like gravestones, not from real gravestones you’ll be pleased to hear!
Mt Mitchell State Park
Take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mt Mitchell State Park, just outside of Asheville. You can hike to the top for incredible views, and the drive there is worth the trip alone!
Looking Glass Falls
Named as one of the most romantic waterfalls near Asheville, this is a popular waterfall because it’s really easy to get to and wheelchair accessible. It’s also super pretty!
You should also take a look at The Grandfather Trail, Crabtree Falls and Hawksbill Mountain – there really is a trek for everyone in Asheville!
Pasgah National Forest
The Pisgah National Forest over 500,000 acres of mile-high peaks, cascading waterfalls, and heavily forested slopes. A visit here is never dull, and there are so many free things to do here that you’ll probably want to visit more than once – or why not camp over for the more adventurous among you! Try your hand at fishing, go swimming in rivers and waterfalls or bike riding through the forests.
Botanical Gardens of Asheville
The Botanical Gardens of Asheville is free to visit, with free parking too. You could easily spend half a day here, wondering the beautiful gardens that showcase some of Asheville’s finest vegetation. Visit here before heading off on a hike so you can point out all your new found plants and flowers to impressed onlookers as you go! Although this is a free Asheville activity, you might want to leave a donation before you go.
Friday Evening Drum Circle
The Friday evening drum circle in Asheville’s Pritchard Park is legendary and attracts quite a crowd! It happens every week in the spring and summer, every one is welcome and you’ll find an awesome mix of people here. Bring your own drum or wear your dancing shoes (or none at all!) and get down to the beat. It’s a very cool place to be!
Swimming Holes Are A Great Free Asheville Activity
We needed a stop off on the way to our bnb, so I just happened to stumble across this awesome natural swimming hole. I didn’t know that Asheville is surrounded by them, and in the heat of the summer months an ice cold dip is just the medicine!
The most popular natural waterslide in North Carolina for generations is in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. This 60ft smooth waterfall plunges you into freezing cold water.
Don’t come here if you want peace and quiet, as it can get pretty busy (we had to queue for the slide), but there are showers, toilets and even lifeguards on duty during the summer months.
Another gem on the Blueridge Highway, Craggy Gardens offers one of the most dramatic viewpoints with vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains as far as the eye can see. There’s a picnic area here so bring a packed lunch and soak in the views, or come here after dark for a spot of stargazing!
If you’re feeling active then hike Craggy Pinnacle, through a tunnel of rhododendron (in the early summer months) to the summit, which offers 360-degree view.
The Foundation Walls Are A Must Free Thing To Do In Asheville
The Foundation Walls in the River Arts District are a spectacle, and one of the best free things to do in Asheville. The art work is always changing, and always interesting. Bring a camera and capture the magic!
Take Part In Wedge Run
Every Thursday at 5pm or 6.15pm you can join the wedge run for a self guided run along the French Broad River. For the energetic among you this is a great way to see for of Asheville for free, and if it’s your first time you’ll even get a free beer at the end! The course is 8.6 miles long and you can run at your own pace. You’re bound to meet some friendly locals to share a drink with at the end! Find out where to meet and more details here!
Ride The Carrier Park Velodrome
Ok, so it’s not exactly a velodrome, but this old race track is a ⅓ mile oval track that you can free ride daily from 6am – 10pm. They also host races here so check out the timetable before you go.
Go Elk Spotting In Cataloochee Valley
Head to Cataloochee Valley to see the famous elk. This picturesque valley is home to over 200 of these beautiful creatures, after they were re-released into the wild here in 2001. You can also check out the Palmer Chapel and Caldwell House, or just camp, picnic and explore the valley.
Enjoy Some Live Music At Jack Of The Woods
So it’s not exactly free as you’ll want to get yourself a drink, but it’s certainly a night of entertainment for very little (if you can resist the delicious looking menu! Jack of the Wood in downtown Asheville puts on live music for it’s guests almost every night of the week, with a huge range of different genres to suit everyone. You can find out what’s going on here!
Listen To An Author Talk At Malaprops
Malaprops is a very cool bookshop that has a calendar full of author talks and events in their popular café – a lot of which are free! This is a very cool and different way to pass some time in Asheville for free.
Check Out The Live Music At Isis Restaurant & Music Hall
This music venue was originally built in 1937 as a theatre. It’s become known as one of the best places in Asheville for live music, and they regularly showcase new and upcoming artists for just a donation on the door. This a great free thing to do in Asheville and you can check out their event calendar here.
Listen To Buskers For Free In Down Town Asheville
In Downtown Asheville there are always some incredible street buskers to check out. They play at all times of year and in all kinds of weather. Although this is a great free thing to do in Asheville, you might want to leave a donation to any artists you particularly enjoy.
Visit The Basilica Of Saint Lawrence
Asheville is famous for the Basilica of Saint Lawrence as it’s one of the only basilicas in the US. A Basilica is a title given to certain churches for their historical importance or significance as a place of spiritual worship. This is a fully functioning church, so you can attend services, or you can also just take a tour of this beautiful Basilica.
Watch Glass Blowing For Free In Asheville
Watching glass blowing is another fun free thing to do in Asheville. At this downtown glassblowers workshop you can watch the owners demonstrate the entire process from their special viewing gallery complete with local beers on tap! Admission is free (but I’m afraid you’ll have to pay for the beer!)
Watch A Shakespeare Production
It’s crazy to think you could catch a top quality Shakespeare production in Asheville FOR FREE! This is a non-profit relying completely on volunteer involvement and admission is completely free. The shows are outside in the summer months in an ampitheatre type set up holding 1000 people – but you’ll want to book tickets in advance here to be sure of entrance on the day.
Take A Bike Ride Through Bent Creek
Bent Creek is an area that contains a collection of trails that are well suited to a variety of riding styles. There are trails for all abilities, with most following old roads or railways and only a few that require a little more mountain biking experience. Bring your bike and helmet and get stuck into this great free activity in Asheville NC.
Visit Asheville Pinball Museum
If you love your arcade games then a visit here is a must. With 75 pinball machines, this museum in Asheville is a fascinating spot and a great place for a photo or two. It’s free to come and ogle but will cost if you want to play. It’s popular at the weekends so call ahead if you’re planning a visit then to make sure you get a spot!
Free Things To Do In Asheville – Festivals
Shindig On The Green (Saturdays from July to Early Sept)
These free bluegrass concerts have been running in downtown Asheville for 50 years. Every summer head to Pack Square for music, dancing and a lot more with locals and tourists alike.
Getting Around Asheville
It’s pretty easy to get around in Asheville itself via public transport. You can find out all about the public transport options in Asheville here.
If you want to try out some of the treks or visit the sights just outside of Asheville then you’ll need a car. Here’s some useful information about parking for those of you that do arrive by car!
- Street parking is quite hard to find in Asheville. If you do manage to find a spot then download the PassportParking app before you arrive (or make sure you have change on you for the parking meters)
- Metered parking is available for short-term use (2 hours or less) and costs $1.25 an hour from 8 am to 6 pm every day except Sundays.
- There are also three garages downtown: Civic Center, Wall Street, and Rankin.
Hopefully that’s inspired you to try out some of the best free things to do in Asheville. This town has it all – a great night life, culture and art, and a lot of it you can find for free! Make Asheville your next getaway destination and you won’t be disappointed.